The speaker in the poem is the ball turret gunner who is crouched inside the plexiglas hemisphere on the underside of the plane during an aircraft attack. Cold, cramped, and isolated from the rest of the crew, the ball turret was probably not a sought-after position on the plane. If you were unfortunate enough to be small or short, then the position would be yours. The gunner is recounting his experience not from life but from death. It is almost as if he is watching from outside himself, narrating what he sees happening to himself in a detached, unemotional way, as if he is looking at someone else being washed out of the turret ball.
No one ever really wants to face their mortality. Certainly a young enlisted man, eager to fight for his country, to make his family proud of him for doing his duty, did not really think he would actually die. “I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters” expresses not so much a physical awakening as it is a realization of his situation. Thinking about his dreams when the war was over and he went home, his reality was suddenly changing. The anti-aircraft shell burst and the fighters would be seen as nightmarish because it is like a bad dream that can’t possibly be real. Yet it was real. Inside the turret ball, with the fighter planes bearing down on him, he wanted to get out, to be anywhere else except trapped in that ball forced to meet his fate.
“When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose” grimly tells about the expulsion of the gunner from the "womb," an occurrence that is seen as cold. The State is indifferent to his death as the turret is prepared for the next gunner. Is the State really indifferent to the loss? I think it is not so much indifference as it is an emotional detachment. It is probably the only way the ground crew can function, much like emergency hospital workers. Without some detachment, it would be difficult to do their job. These men went up in these planes knowing the odds were against their return. It was wartime. They did not want to die. Yet, they did the job they were assigned. When one man fell, another would take his place. Poems like this attest to the impact the war had on soldiers and on those that fought by their side. They had to detach emotionally to get through it, but forget? I don’t think so. I think they cared deeply.